ECOWAS Craves Concerted Efforts to Tackle Malnutrition in Adolescents

By: Moses R. Quollin, (Environmental Reporter) +231770922412/+231880922412 |

Members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are stressing the need for more rigorous efforts in the fight against malnutrition among members’ states.

Discussions are being held in Liberia at the ongoing 16th Nutrition Forum under a theme “Adolescent nutrition: institutionalizing sustainable actions for improved outcomes in West Africa,” with keys stakeholders in attendance.

The November 18-20 2019 dialogue is part of ECOWAS’ efforts to review nutrition policies, progresses in the reduction of malnutrition, diet-related diseases and innovative practices in the Sub-region of West Africa.

Speakers at the event are recommending among other things that member states take concrete steps mostly in the fight against hunger & poverty, malnutrition in children, adolescents and breast-feeding mothers.

At the opening ceremony, Liberia’s Vice President, Dr. Jewel Howard-Taylor said the theme is appropriate for the region because it considers 2 critical topics – food security under appropriate nutrition and its impact on the majority of adolescent population. “It has been proven that Child under-nutrition is the leading cause in up to 45% of deaths for children under five; which explains the urgent need for a regional focus on programs for children, pregnant women and mothers.”

In West and Central Africa, she said, it is estimated that about 3.5% of girls give birth before the age 15 years, and nearly a third before 18 years; whilst other adolescent girls may be coerced to get rid of unwanted pregnancies with potentially adverse consequences.

Outline several challenges, the Liberian leader noted that her country has made some progress in providing an enabling environment for improved nutrition, especially since a significant proportion of Liberia population live in poverty.

“The 2012 Liberia Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) titled “Agenda for Transformation,” identified nutrition as a national priority and an integral part of the overall development agenda.”

Building on this, she expressed confident that the implementation of the her government’s current “Pro-Poor Agenda for prosperity and Development (PAPD) 2018-2023,” which espouses more equitable distribution of the national wealth, and a rights-based approach to national development, will improve that national status of Liberia’s population.

Also in remarks, the Special Representative of the ECOWAS Commission to Liberia, Ambassador ‘Tunde O, Ajisomo expressed appreciation for efforts made so far by ECOWAS countries including Liberia.

“I am happy to note that Liberia has set up a Scale-Up Nutrition (SUP) mechanism and efforts are being made to fashion out a strategic plan for its operation. In addition, an Integrated Content Analysis (ICA) Workshop was organized recently in Liberia by the Ministry of Agriculture in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP) and other relevant stakeholders aimed towards developing strategic plan for addressing food insecurity and natural shock in Liberia.”

Ambassador Ajisomo intones, “key approaches for enhancing adolescent nutrition include: food-based strategies like dietary diversification and food fortification to ensure sufficient household-level nutrition; addressing behavioral change to bring about adolescent dietary change. This can be achieved through school-based nutrition interventions, using a social marketing strategy, behavior modification through family and community interaction and mobilization; including management of micro-nutrient deficiencies as well as regular nutrition assessment and adolescent counseling.”

For her Part, Liberia’s Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah said efforts are also being made towards achieving the targets of the Sustainable Development Goal by 2030 and enhancing the quality of basic services including agriculture and rural infrastructure.

“However, there is still a need to further emphasize on ensuring Government supported projects and programs are clearly dedicated to improving the nutritional status of the population especially adolescence for they are the determinant for a  good, healthier and  productive generation.

The Government of Liberia along with her development partners emphasizes support for food and nutrition security as reflected in the Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and development (PAPD) and the National Agriculture Investment Plan (NAIL ll).”

According to sources, Liberia has a huge adolescent burden where thirty-one percent (31%) of pregnancies and maternal mortality are among teenagers with no adequate Health and nutrition progress to address this critical need.

In Liberia Low Birth Weight babies account for 10 % of the live births (LDHS 2013) and this poses a serious challenge due to its strong association with stunting among under five children.

Optimal nutritional status among adolescence is fundamental to future health and nutrition of newborns and consequently of the future generation at large. Stunting usually starts intra-uterine up to the first one thousand days of life addressing the health and nutrition status of the mother could reduce up to 20% of stunting. About 14 per cent of teenage mothers between the ages of 15-19 years are undernourished (LDHS, 2013).

According to the 2011 Liberian national micronutrient survey, 53% of adolescence is anemic. This affects their growth, resistance to infections, cognitive development and work productivity.

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